Itoje en­joy­ing mis­sion to US

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Rugby Union - By Kate Rowan in Philadel­phia

Maro Itoje saun­tered up the steps lead­ing to the Philadel­phia Mu­seum of Art, sup­press­ing any urge to sprint in the style of Sylvester Stallone in the Rocky films.

“I didn’t run. I don’t like to waste too much en­ergy,” the Sara­cens lock said.

That en­ergy will be needed for to­day’s Pre­mier­ship fix­ture against New­cas­tle Fal­cons in the Talen En­ergy Sta­dium here, as Sara­cens look to bounce back af­ter last weekend’s de­feat by Bath.

Itoje un­der­stands why the game is tak­ing place in the United States. “There are a num­ber of rea­sons be­hind us com­ing to Amer­ica,” he said.

“Ob­vi­ously, the main one is to grow the game glob­ally. Amer­ica is the largest econ­omy in the world so, from a fi­nan­cial point of view, it makes sense for the pow­er­sthat-be to get on this mar­ket.” He added: “This is not their nat­u­ral sport here. From talk­ing to peo­ple, you no­tice that they’re in­ter­ested and re­cep­tive of rugby. They all think we’re crazy be­cause we don’t have pads but I tell them we’ll be OK.

“Rugby’s grow­ing and it’s been grow­ing at an ex­po­nen­tial rate since it turned pro­fes­sional. In terms of the power, the pace, the skill, but also in terms of the team be­hind the team – the cor­po­rate team be­hind the or­gan­i­sa­tions. As time goes by, rugby will nat­u­rally grow to be­come a big­ger sport glob­ally.”

If the US is to be stirred, it could take play­ers who can tran­scend the sport to help make that wake-up call.

Itoje knows what gives ath­letes broader ap­peal and speaks of those who look beyond their sport. “The sports­men I am more drawn to are the ones who are not only in­cred­i­ble ath­letes, but the ones who have some­thing more to them.”

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